What is Yerba Mate?

Picture of Yerba Mate
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Yerba mate (pronounced YER-buh MAH-tay) is an herbal tea grown in South America, whose popularity has increased in recent years. Although it’s recently become famous among the younger generation, yerba mate has been a widely beloved beverage for hundreds of years. In this article, you’ll learn what all the fuss is about, and what makes yerba mate such a delight.

The Origins of Yerba Mate

Where most teas are composed of brewed tea leaves, yerba mate is a little more unique. Yerba mate is actually made from crushed twigs and leaves plucked from the yerba mate plant, native to South America. Dozens of ancient South American cultures drank yerba mate for its energizing properties, believing it to aid them on hunting trips and with social confidence.

These civilizations were spot on – yerba mate’s popularity in recent years is largely attributed to its high caffeine content and naturally energizing effects. Students preparing for stressful midterm and final exams often consume this beverage to get them through all-nighters and long hours of studying.

What Does Yerba Mate Taste Like?

The herbal, earthy, and woodsy flavors of yerba mate are an acquired taste. Yerba mate is known to be rather bitter unless you add extra fixings such as sugar or honey. When brewed, yerba mate takes on a golden or amber hue. Yerba mate is available for purchase in bottles and cans, where the taste is much sweeter and thus more palatable to new tea drinkers.

Brewing Yerba Mate at Home

There are different ways you can enjoy yerba mate, ranging from bottled drinks in vending machines to traditional brewing methods used throughout history.

Brewing Traditionally

If you’re looking to enjoy yerba mate as it’s traditionally brewed, know that the process requires patience and the use of some special tools. You’ll need a unique type of gourd from which the tea is traditionally served, called a mate

You’ll also need a metal straw called a bombilla, with a filtered bottom, through which you’ll end up drinking the tea. The bombilla serves to filter out the twigs and leaves from the actual tea itself. Of course, you’ll also need loose-leaf yerba mate.

Here’s how to brew a traditional mate:

  1. Fill the gourd about one third to halfway with the loose yerba mate.
  2. Tilt the gourd until the yerba mate leaves are leaning up against just one wall of it, and then pour cold water into the empty space remaining. The leaves will absorb the liquid, which is when the unique brewing process really starts.
  3. Insert the bombilla into the gourd and add hot water (between 165-175℉) to the mixture, filling the rest of the gourd.
  4. Traditionally, the final step is to pass the gourd around between yourself and company (if you have any), while refilling the water from time to time.

Brewing with Tea Bags

If the previous method is too complicated for you, it might be a better idea to purchase yerba mate in pre-packaged tea bags. Here’s how to properly brew yerba mate from tea sachets:

  1. First, boil some water. You can use a tea kettle to do this, or if you don’t have one, you can always microwave a mug filled with water. Know that using a microwave can flatten the taste of the tea.
  2. Next, fully submerge the tea sachet under the boiling water.
  3. Steep the yerba mate tea bag for 3-5 minutes, and then discard it.
  4. Finally, enjoy your tea!

While brewing yerba mate, you’ll notice a lot of bubbles and foam rising to the surface. These are called saponins, and they’re actually healthy for you. Saponins are natural antioxidants present in certain food and drinks such as lentils, beans, garlic, onions, tomatoes and asparagus.

Improving the Taste

The bitterness of yerba mate isn’t for everyone. If you find that the flavor is a little too much for you, you can always throw in some extra ingredients to bring the flavor where you want it. Here are some things you can add to your yerba mate to improve the taste:

  • Honey
  • Sugar or Sweetener
  • Cream or Milk
  • Fresh Mint
  • Citrus Peels

If you brew your yerba mate traditionally, add these extras directly into the mate gourd you’re using. Otherwise, you should add your selected fixings to your fully finished teacup.

Caffeine, Carbs & Calories

Yerba mate contains a significant amount of caffeine, which is a large part of its appeal to tea enthusiasts. There are approximately 85 mg of caffeine in a standard 8 oz cup of yerba mate, comparable to the 100 mg present in the same amount of black coffee. Yerba mate contains about 8.2 carbs and about 15 calories. 

While this is definitely more than you’ll find in most other teas, it’s not terrible. Due to the caffeine content in yerba mate, it also reduces appetite, making those extra calories worth it even if you’re watching your weight.

Is Yerba Mate Good for You?

Not only is yerba mate popular among stressed out students, it’s equally loved by athletes and professionals. Yerba mate’s caffeine content provides a longer, more sustainable energy burst than a cup of coffee. That caffeine crash you usually experience the afternoon after your coffee wears off is no longer a problem with yerba mate, as it’s metabolized differently.

Because of its caffeine content, yerba mate is also a natural laxative. The caffeine helps your digestive organs contract, which in turn means a quick trip to the bathroom. If you’re ever a little stopped up, a cup of yerba mate ought to help!

Yerba mate is adaptogenic, meaning it works differently for everyone because the chemicals it contains try to harmonize with your body. However, this doesn’t mean there are zero risks when drinking it. Yerba mate’s high caffeine content also means it’s likely to interfere with medications and can be potentially harmful for those with caffeine sensitivity or heart conditions.

Why You Should Try Yerba Mate

If you’re looking for an energy boost and you don’t want to set yourself up for a crash, yerba mate is a great alternative to coffee. Its distinct flavor can break up the monotony of a daily cup of Joe followed by an afternoon nap. Try yerba mate for yourself and discover if it’s right for you.